ADVENTURE'S SOUTHERN OCEAN EXPEDITIONS
Ushuaia Bay at Sunrise looking East
Ushuaia, the World's most Southern city, started
*(click for larger photo)
out as Christian mission and then became a prison
It has always been subsidized by the government in
Buenos Aires. Ushuaia is strategically important
to secure Argentina's claim to the south.
Only recently has it grown due to the large number
of visiting tourists. At the new airport, several
national and international flights arrive each
day, and a steady stream of cruise ships is
responsible for the majority of curious folks that
look for anything interesting along the main
Ushuaia bills itself as the southernmost city on
the globe, a title that has been successfully
wrested from Punta Arenas and that is now being
contested by Puerto Williams, a village about 40
km to the east across the Beagle Channel on
You will find it's difficult to commute between
the two places at the present time. This hopefully
will change in the future. It was settled in the
1870s by English missionaries led by Thomas
Bridges and was taken over by Argentine naval
forces in 1884.
Lumber, livestock, and fishing and tourism are
important to the local economy. Ushuaia is 25
miles East of Puerto Williams, the world's most
Southern town. Puerto Williams lies just below the
point where the sun is rising on the photo above.
Ushuaia, Argentina has a population of about 45,000.
View of Ushuaia in the distance as seen from the Beagle
Channel during our Tierra del Fuego navegation
A view of Ushuaia looking East down the
Beagle Channel towards Puerto Williams, Chile, 25 miles on the right
To get from Ushuaia to Puerto Williams or vice versa, one can take a boat, the PATRIOTA. The hours of departure are at 8 PM from Ushuaia and at 8AM from Puerto Williams, every day during the high season. Cost is US$150 round trip and US$100, one way. The boat is heated and offers food, bathrooms and television. Time of the 25 mile crossing is only 1 hour 55 minutes. Reservations are available at mailto:CaptainBen@victory-cruises.com
There is also a small ferry boat in Ushuaia at 054-9-2901-43-6193 and a 2 passenger plane (avioneta) available at the aeroclub, Ushuaia that goes to Puerto Williams: phone is 054 -2901-421717
Hostal Bella Vista in Puerto Williams
Further information on Ushuaia:
A TRIP TO THE END OF THE WORLD
January 1, 1993 [Happy New Year in Ushuaia]
Bueno Ano Nuevo. Evidently the town was partying hard last night.
We were awaken at midnight by all of the car horns in the city honking
in the new year. We went back to sleep but I awoke on and off and
remember still hearing horns honking as late as 3:00 am.
Today went well. We found most of the shops closed for the
holiday but that was expected so didn't hamper our plans. After a
hearty lunch we headed out to Tierra del Fuego National Park again to
do more hiking. Buses to the Martial Glacier just outside of town
weren't running today or we would have gone there.
We arranged with the bus driver to be let off somewhere other
than the usual bus stop location in the park. We wanted to get off at
the base of the climb to Cerro Pampa Alta which was on the road on the
way to the usual stopping place. This was fine with the driver who
agreed to meet us back there at 8:00 pm.
The climb was easier than described in the literature we had and
took less time then expected. The walk up parallels a stream for about
1 km, at the top of which is a HUGE beaver dam. Then it turns east and
goes through a dense beech forest. The trees have several kinds of
parasites. One of them is called "Indian bread" because some part of it
is apparently edible. It consists of large "tumors" some of which have
a golf-ball sized orange "fruit" growing on them. We aren't sure which
part is meant to be edible, so we pass on the culinary experience.
Many trees also have a hairy green lichen called "Old man's
beard" growing on them. In some places it is so thick it looks like
fur. It looks like it is attached very tenuously, but I gave it a hard
tug, and it held fast. I guess if it weren't attached pretty well it
wouldn't last long come winter.
The trail ends in a large open field with a very wet and spongy
ground at one end, but high and dry at the other end. There are lots of
small alpine flowers forming a colorful carpet, and the spongy areas
are covered with a short grass that would be the envy of the greens
keepers at our municipal golf course. It is much healthier than our
lawn at home!!
We spent about an hour at the top just taking in the views of the
mountains, lakes, channels, snow and sky. The sun is quite strong, and
I get a slight sunburn despite the 55 degree latitude and SPF 15 sun
screen! The mountains are very jagged, with very well-defined
tree-lines and scrub-lines. The day was another beautiful clear day
with 70 degree weather and there is almost no wind despite our exposed
location in an open field on the side of a mountain. The channel, a
couple of km distant looked perfectly calm.
We relaxed and read for a while at the top before heading back
down to the beaver dam we had passed on the way up. Although today
appears to be celebrated similar to the 4th of July in the US with many
families out picnicking, they were in a different part of the park and
we were all alone at Cerro Pampa Alta.
We found 3 German tourists at the beaver dam busily photographing
the beavers. It would appear that they own stock in Kodak judging by
the speed at which they are going through film. We stopped and watched
the beavers for about 45 minutes since we were early for the bus. I now
fully understand what busy as a beaver means. There were two beavers
continuously swimming about dragging sticks to the dam and shoving them
in and we found them fascinating to watch. The artificial lake was
really huge, at least a couple of acres. Some of the trees that had
been cut down were 16" in diameter. These two beavers have been working
for a while! When we decide to leave, we just about trip over one of
the beavers who came up on land to get a particularly large branch. We
get caught up in his endeavors, and return to our appointed bus stop a
couple of minutes after 8:00.
Since the bus was going to be picking up others at the regular
place at 8:00 we didn't expect it until 8:15-8:30 so we weren't
worried. At 8:20 we saw our bus drive by without even slowing down.
Panic Time! There was a lot of traffic and many people milling about
where we were at the time so it's possible that the driver didn't see
us. Or maybe he just forgot.
The panic passes quickly and we started walking in the direction
of town (~15 km away). We were debating whether we really wanted to
walk the whole way, but the ranger station was on the way and we
decided to see how we felt when we got there and possibly call a cab or
hitch a ride at that point. Despite the late hour, we could probably
walk all the way back to town in daylight, and even manage to find
dinner upon arrival because the Argentines dine so late. After about 20
minutes walking, when we were half way to the ranger station, our bus
came back from the direction of town. He picked us up and we and the
driver each tried to communicate what had gone wrong.
Since everything depended on the precise comprehension of
pronouns prepositions and tenses, communication was not successful. We
tried to explain that we were at the bottom of the climb across the
street from where we were let out when he drove by but our Spanish
wasn't up to the task. The driver said stuff like "he had passed by"
and "first bus" and some other words we recognized like "crossroads." In the end we don't know if he had come to pick us up first at 8:00 and
missed us then somehow didn't see us at 8:20 after picking up the other
passengers or if we were supposed to have gone to the crossroads to be
picked up. In any event, we got taken back to town in plenty of time
At the hotel as we were heading out to dinner a voice called out
"John." We turned to look expecting to find someone calling to someone
else. It turned out to be someone from Rice University whom John had
met earlier in the year and they'll both be at another conference at
the end of January when we are back home. He's Argentine by birth, but
now lives in the US. He was catching up on some of the cultural and
natural sites in his home country that he had never visited when he
lived there. After Ushuaia he and his wife were going to Jujuy in the
far north. I thought "Yeah, one of these days I'll get to places like
Yellowstone and Alaska!" I wonder why it's easier to travel to the end
of the earth than go visiting next door? How many native New Yorkers
have never been to the top of the Empire State Building? (besides John)
We had dinner at the Parilla Don Juan and had an Argentine
specialty, parilladas, which is a variety of roasted meats and sausages
cooked slowly over a fire. It was all fairly good except for the blood
sausage (which was probably very good too, but an acquired taste) but
there was so much food we just ate what we liked best. We had ice cream
for dessert which was really great. Finishing up our meal a little
after midnight we declined coffee. What are all these other people, the
place was packed, doing having really strong after dinner coffee? Don't
January 2, 1993 [Ushuaia]
We had a slow leisurely day today. After breakfast we went for a
walk down to the east end of town. We stopped in at a bakery and then
stopped at a cafe for coffee. We didn't do much of anything until lunch
when we went back the Ideal and had very good cannelloni and gnochis.
After lunch we both fell asleep and slept away the afternoon. Luckily
it stays light till late so we were able to take a long walk around the
town starting at 8:00 pm. We went to the west end of town and then
started heading up the road that goes to the Martial Glacier. We didn't
make it there, but got high enough to have a panoramic view of Ushuaia.
The houses are small and cute with extremely steep sloping roofs
suggesting serious winter snows. There is new construction going on
everywhere. The place is growing rapidly and almost every yard has a
dog. We came back to town and had dinner at the Moustacchio. The food
is good but the atmosphere is somewhat stiffer than at the Ideal.
January 3, 1993 [Beagle Channel Cruise]
Today we took a 12 hour cruise along the Beagle Channel in a
large catamaran. The brochure says "If you are the type of people who
enjoy a maritime excursion on the Channel Beagle, then you will want to
travel with this adventure.", but the guide's spoken English is far,
far better. The catamaran holds about 60, but there are only about 30
people on board, so there's room to move around, change seats and
stretch one's legs. There's a heated, glass-enclosed inside area, a
very windy but mostly dry upper deck and a very wet walkway around the
outside on the lower level. We could have used our GoreTex pants for
the first time, but we left them back in the hotel. At one point early
in the cruise we go outside to get some fresh air and are splashed with
spray. We aren't soaked, but we would be if we stayed out for any
length of time.
In the morning we passed by islands with sea lions and cormorants
and saw a number of albatrosses fly past as well as a couple of petrels
which look like albatrosses but are darker in color. The sea lion
island is on the "itinerary", and we stop for about 10 minutes to watch
about 50 sea lions in various states of agitation: sleeping, resting,
grunting, walking around, bellowing and fighting. The "imperial
cormorants" are a medium-sized black-and-white sea bird. They can be
mistaken for penguins from a distance (OK, from a great distance).
Next stop: the wreck of the Sarmiento, which had been a hazard to
shipping in the middle of the channel until a few years ago, when it
was dragged to its present location in one of the bays. We also see,
but do not stop at Estancia Remiggio, on the Argentine coast in a
protected bay. This is the second or third permanent European presence
on Tierra del Fuego, c. 1890.
We stopped at the Refugio Almanza for lunch. It is directly
across the channel from Puerto Williams, a military base in Chile. We
took a walk on the beach which was littered with huge pieces of
driftwood and millions of mussel shells. There have been signs
everywhere warning of the danger of "red tide", and the "peligro de
muerte" if you eat any shellfish. Across the Beagle Channel there is
another channel leading south which goes directly to Cape Horn 90 km
After lunch came my favorite part of the trip. A stop by the
Pinguinera (Penguin Rookery) to watch and photograph the penguins
waddling about. On the way we pass by an island formed of glacial
debris. There are some odd-shaped hills at the waters edge which the
guide calls "drumlins". I think I've seen this word before only in
On a small island (more of a large rock) next to "Drumlin Island" (not its real name) we finally encounter the penguins. We could not get
off the boat, so all the tourists crowded onto the pontoons on the
front trying to get a good look. Lynn used the telephoto lens and I
used the binoculars. The penguins just went on about their business,
waddling to and fro, preening, swimming, sleeping. It's a relatively
small colony of a few hundred Magellanic or Jackass penguins. They
summer here in the south and migrate north to warmer water in the
After the penguins came a ~1 hour stop and tour of the Estancia
Harberton. A residence established by Thomas and Mary Bridges in 1886.
It is still owned by the Bridges family (I think the great grandson of
the founder still lives on the premises) and sheep are still raised and
shorn in the original shed. The complex of buildings is incredibly
picturesque despite somewhat gray skies. The fields are covered with
yellow and white wildflowers and grazing horses and sheep. The
buildings are white with red painted corrugated iron roofs. Corrugated
iron seems to be the building material of choice in Patagonia. I
wouldn't expect it to survive the sea air and wet conditions, but even
the expensive new constructions going up in Ushuaia use it.
The Bridges were the first successful missionaries in the region
and I got the book written by the Bridges son, Lucas Bridges, "The
Uttermost Part of the Earth" at the gift shop. We also learned that
grass was introduced to Tierra del Fuego in the late 1800's possibly as
seeds stuck in someones shoes. It is hard to imagine what is was like
before since the place is carpeted in green today. The estancia has
some interesting features, including the "oldest vegetable garden in
Tierra del Fuego", growing onions, carrots, and several other
They also maintain a sort-of botanical garden with examples of
many of the native flora in a fairly natural environment (well, except
for the identifying signs and the footpath). I found the botanical
garden to be straight out of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or maybe the
Forest of the Ents in Tolkein. Dense foliage. Gnarled and twisted tree
trunks. Lichens and other parasites hanging off many of the trunks and
branches. The overall impression was quite eery. All it needed was a
moonless night and a howling wind (not an uncommon occurrence).
We got another guide at the estancia who was very well informed
about the history (both natural and human), and who spoke excellent
English, as well as French. She denied speaking good French, but the
numerous French tourists prevailed upon her and although she gave her
initial descriptions in English, she answered their questions in
excellent French (their assessment, not mine). I am always envious of
people who have had the talent and/or the opportunity to learn several
languages well. I have had an opportunity to learn many languages very
poorly, and none (save English?) at all well.
After Harberton we had ~4 hours trip back to Ushuaia. There was
one unscheduled stop when the boat pulled over to pick up an old man
with a hat and a young man with a gun standing next to a dead horse on
the beach. We left the horse. Sometimes it's better to not ask too many
questions. Back in Ushuaia we were the first to arrive for dinner at 10
pm. The place was beginning to fill up by the time we were finished. I
haven't fully gotten used to this late night dining, but it is
absolutely wonderful for the traveller. One can stay out sightseeing
till quite late, sure in the knowledge that restaurants will be open
upon your return. If you return to your hotel room at 9:30 pm, you
don't have to worry whether a few minutes spent taking a shower and
changing clothes will mean the restaurants will be closed.
Tierra del Fuego - The Land of Fire. The fires were the camp
fires of the Fuegian Indians. In one version, Magellan saw smoke
only and called it Tierra del Humo, the Land of Smoke, but Charles V
said there was no smoke without fire and changed the name... The
Fuegians are dead and all the fires snuffed out. Only the flares
of oil rigs cast a pall over the night sky.
Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
From: Tan Wee Cheng
Ushuaia at the Edge of the World
Ushuaia. Beautiful name, isn't it ? For a long time,
I have craved for her. Pure lust. I have come to the end of
the world for her. Yes, edge of the world.
Look at the southern tip of South America and you will see a
large island called Tierra del Fuego, or Land of Fire. Ushuaia,
capital of the Argentine Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and
the South Atlantic Islands (which theoretically includes Islas
Malvinas/Falkland Islands), is located more than 3,000 km from Buenos
Aires, 13,000km from London, and 14,000km
from Singapore. It takes 2.5 to 3 hours for me to fly here on a
Boeing 737 from Trelew/Valdes which is located mid-Argentina. From the above 30'C temperature in Puerto Valdes where I had a
sunburnt, I have arrived in damp, wet, cloudy Ushuaia, where I have to
put on sweaters to survive the 5'C English-like winter. This is the
world's southernmost city, where expeditions and cruise-ships (pray for
my lottery, and any extraordinary windfall bonus) set off for
Upon arrival yesterday, I dumped my things at the Kaisken Hostel,
which I have booked in advance via the internet (what can you not
booked through the Internet ?), and hopped onto a 6 hour cruise along
the Beagle Channel, the body of water between Argentine Tierra del
Fuego and the Chilean island of Isla Navarino, where a dispute over 3
miserable islands almost led to full
fledge war in 1978. At a fantastic seafood restaurant, I had a
fabulous meal of the local giant crab and deep fried fish.
In Love With Ushuaia ?
I woke up this morning to a bright, warm Tierra del Fuego c.
25'C, in contrast to the previous day's 5'C wetness a la England.
The snowcapped mountains surrounding Ushuaia was clearly visible and
seagulls greeted the visitor with loud cries. I visited the Edge
of the World Museum where I did the usual tacky tourist thing - getting
an "Edge of the World" stamping onto
my passport. After another visit to the prison museum, I
proceeded to Martial Glacier, located in a mountain overlooking the
city. I met two elderly Argentine ladies at the cable car. One of them, B., from BA, spoke halting but impeccable English of the
Home Counties - probably learnt ages ago from an English gentleman,
with polite, serious (and old fashioned)
terminology, certainly none of the sort associated with South
park. The other, L., non-English speaker from Esquel (of the Old
Patagonian Express fame), but with a kind heart all the same.
Together we attempted a slow hike up the mountain. The cheerful
old grannies, though looking weird with their suitcase (!) full of warm
clothing and sweet goodies and cookies, were
most contagious with their jokes and laughter, and made the walk an
unexpectedly enjoyable one. Don't underestimate them - for they
were armed with rather sophisticated set of cameras and great capacity
of walking stamina. It was a great day, and we parted with open
invitations to Bs As and Esquel.
In the 1890s a crude form of Darwin's theory, which had once
germinated in Patagonia, returned to Patagonia and appeared to
encourage the hunting of Indians. A slogan: 'The Survival of the
Fittest', a Winchester abd a cartridge belt gave some European bodies
the illusion of superiority over the far fitter bodies of the natives.
The Onas of Tierra del Fuego had hunted guanaco since Kaux, their
ancestro, split the island into thirty-nine territories, one for each
family...they did not think of extending their boundaries... Then the
Whites came with a new guanaco, the sheep, and a new frontier, barbed
wire. At first the Indians enjoyed the taste of roast lamb, but
soon learned to fear the bigger, brown guanaco and its rider that spat
Ushuaia is 3040km from Bs.As., and 5,171km from the northern tip of
Ushuaia, End of the World, the sign reads...Apocalpse ? No, Edge
of the World. Let's do the tourist thing - take a photo here!
Wild Wild West atmosphere ? Streets of Ushuaia.
Post offcie murals - the indigenous Indians of Tierra del Fuego have
all been wiped out...through deliberate massascres and diseases.
Beauitful city on a beautiful day...
The Government of the Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and
South Antlantic Islands - most parts of which are not under Argentine
control at all... and the sign further reads: Malvinas (Falkland
Islands): Past, Present & Future - Irrenouncible!
The Onas' sheep rustling threatened the companies' dividends (in Bs.As.
the explorer Julius Popper spoke of their 'alarming Communist
tendencies') and the accepted solution was to round them up and
civilize them in the Mission
- where they died of infected clothing and the despair of captivity.
But Alexander MacLennan despised slow torture: it offended his sporting
instincts...Perhaps he knew then that wild nomads are untamable... his
methods succeeded where those of his predecessor failed...
He was not among the farm-managers who offered one sterling for every
Indian ear: he preferred to do the killing himself. He hated to
see any animal in pain.
Here is one of Argentina's most important naval bases and the command
centre of much action during the Falklands War.
The Prison Museum - Ushuaia was first set up as a penal colony.
The Martial Glacier overlooking Ushuaia
At the Glacier - a pity I didn't have enough time to scale the summit.
...a party of Indians was heading for the seal colony on Cabo de
Penas,... the hunters butchered the seals in a landlocked cove.
From the Cliffs the Red Pig and his men watched the beach run red with
blood and the rising tide force them within range.
They bagged at least fourteen heads that day. 'A
humanitarian act!' the Red Pig said, 'if one has the guts to do it.'
View of Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino (from the Beagle Channel), the
southernmost settlement in the World. P. Williams belongs to
Chile. The two countries nearly fought a war over three tiny
islands near here.
Lonely lighthouse at the edge of the world.
Want a seal BBQ ?
Estancia Harberton's dead condors. There are two here - one was
found dead and its partner died a few days later of sorrow. Condors are known to be loyal, loving creatures.
Estancia Harberton: The farmstead was founded by English
missionary Thomas Bridges, who did much to document the language and
culture of local Yamanas Indians, although his efforts to assist them
in a changing world failed when the Indians were wiped out on the
onslaught of the whitemen.
Tomorrow I will fly north again, to Rio Gallegoes where I will get to
El Calafate area with more glaciers and mountains.
OK, the sun's out now and it's time to explore Ushuaia. Pray for my lottery, please.
Bye for now.
Located at Canal de Beagle bank, Ushuaia, the provincial capital of
Tierra del Fuego , Antártida and Islas Atlántico Sur, is
surrounded by Martial Mounts and offers a unique landscape in Argentina
, the combination of mountains, sea, glaciers and woods.
The rugged topography has generated a picturesque city that
combines the colours and unevenness accompanying the Andes silhouette
that contrasts with the sky. Ushuaia, is not only a tiny city at one
extreme of the world but it is also nature and adventure at its most.
We invite you to visit the most southern region in the world, source of
inspiration, challenge, myths and legends that last even for those who
have never stepped on these lands or sailed the southern seas.
The origin of its name: when the first white men arrived in the
region, they found out that this beautiful bay, protected from the
winds and surrounded by mountains, was called ‘Ooshooia' or ‘Ouchouaya'
by the natives. Its correct pronunciation was “Ushuaia”, as the first
contacts were carried out by Anglicans sailors and missionary men who
Finally, the word ‘Ushuaia' for the bay was adopted and it was
later adopted to name the town that slowly built up along its coasts,
until it turned into the most southern city in the world
What was the meaning of that word for the vánama natives? Simply
“bay towards sunset”, which turned out to be the right description.
Warmest months from October to May, without snow.
December to February, highest temperatures, 18-hour light a day.
Coldest months: End of May to October. June and August, Ski
season, a few-hour light, permanent snow.
Average Temperature Chart (Celsius Grades)
Months Day night season December to February Summer +8º to
+18º +6º to +10º
March to April Fall +5º to +10º 0º to +6º
July to August Winter 0º to +3º 0º to
October to November Spring +4º to +11º +2º to
Glacier Martial: (7km) After doing a winding way that goes up to Cadena
Martial you arrive at the base of the ‘andes' ski resort whose
elevation means is lift chair. As from there, it is possible to enjoy
an amazing panoramic view of Canal Beagle, the city, the glacier and
even the Navarino Island ( Chile ). Going upwards, after a
2-hour-and-a-half walk, you can feel the sense of ice in your hands.
End of the World Train: This is an unforgettable and unique trip on
board of the “End of the World Train”, the Austral Fueguino train, that
reminds of the ancient steam trains, goes along the same way that
convicts used to supply the community with firewood 80 years ago.
As from the Civis Square (Ushuaia), where Muelle Turístico
is found, you travel by bus along National Route 3, that leads to End
of the World Station, 8 km Westwards from the city, where we will start
the trip that will take us to “Estación Parque Nacional Tierra
We will travel along Pipo River , until we cross it taking
Quemado Bridge . The first stop is “La Macarena”, from where you can
admire the magnificent views of the valley and a beautiful downfall.
When we enter the National Park, at the second stop, we will see the
remains of an old sawmill. Then, the line abandons the river and
surrounds a great ‘turbal', characteristic of Tierra del Fuego . Going
through the thick woods full of cohiues and lengas, rivers and valleys,
we arrive at ‘Estación Terminal del Parque Nacional', where we
can enjoy a delicious hot milk chocolate with some of the exquisite
Tierra del Fuego National Park: This National Park was created in 1960,
taking up a surface of 63,000 acres of andino-patagonian wood. Located
12 km west of Ushuaia, it is the only national park that has sea coasts
(Beagle Channel) in our country. Its lengas woods, ñires and
cherry trees, its rivers, lakes and ‘turbales' frame amazing views of
the channel. You will be able to fully enjoy nature going along paths
of varied length and you will also see different species of the local
fauna. Also, excursions that include trekking, sailing and mountanbike
offer an alternative to visit the Park.
Escondido Lake: (Pavement 36km, pebble road 24 km). Going through
the ‘Andes Fueguinos' 60 km north of Ushuaia (on national route 3) we
find this beautiful lake built-in the mountain range at the foot of
Paso Garibaldi. There are walk activities on the mountains that
surround the lake, the walks start at the Inn , which is located at the
source of the lake. Another activity is sportive fishing.
Fagnano Lake: (Pavement 36km, pebble road 64 km). 100 km north of
Ushuaia (on National Route 3) going far from the sawmills area, we can
see this majestuous water mirror. Kaikén Inn is at its oriental
source and a few kilometres further, you reach a cabin complex, near
the picturesque community of Tolhuin, which is the third locality in
Tierra del Fuego . Its name in Shelk'nam language means ‘heart' and it
is considered the Capital of the so called ‘Heart of the Island '. It
is a fascinating place, full of traditional ‘estancias', water mirrors
and virgin places.
Estancia Harberton: (Pavement 36km, pebble road 44 km). It is the
first ‘estancia' in the province, which is located 90 km east of
Ushuaia and you can have access by land (national route 3 and
complementary j) or by sea. It is considered of high historical value,
because its owners are the descendants of the Anglican Misionary Thomas
Bridges, who, at the beginning of this century, lived with the natives
of the region.
Corazón de la Isla y estancias: Departing from Ushuaia on
National route 3 northwards and after doing 90 km, we find Tolhuin
community, entrance door to the Heart of the Island . As from here and
by complementary route ‘H' you will arrive at Yehuin Lake , of unique
beauty. This is an ideal place to do trekking and horseback riding. You
will be able to spend the night at the ‘estancias'.
Tolhuin:This is the third town in the province, located at the source
of Fagnano Lake , around 100 km away from Ushuaia. In this little and
picturesque place, created by decree in 1972, you will find the
possibility of going on fishing excursions, walks and photo safaris,
renting horses, boats, kayaks, sledges pulled by dogs, etc. Its name
(Tolhuin or ‘Heart' en Shelk'nam language) is because the capital is
called ‘Heart of the Island '. When you visit Tolhuin, in a natural
environment framed by a landscape that has remains of the south
mountain range and the plains of the north of the island, you will find
the mystic and the history that only a little town full of live and
nature can give.
Yehuin Lake: (Pavement 25km, pebble road 100 km). 160 km north of
Ushuaia, going first by National route 3 and then by the complementary ‘h', we will find Yehuin, Chepelmut and Yakush lakes, suitable for
trout fishing, boat trips and fauna watching. These activities have the
alternative of rural tourism in different ‘estancias'. Shenolsh Hill is
also found in this region, ‘andino patagonico' condor's natural
habitat, from where you can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of Cabo
San Pablo region: (Pavement 59km, pebble road 81 km) going along one of
the most attractive ways in the province, where you can easily see
guanacos, foxes, and condors, you reach Cabo San Pablo, located 180 km
northeast of Ushuaia, near the mouth of Ladrillero and San Pablo
rivers, both suitable for good fishing.
Río Grande: (Pavement 134 km, pebble road 91 km) at
Argentinian Sea bank, at the mouth of Grande River, 230 km away from
Ushuaia, we find Rio Grande city, known as Trout National Capital, due
to its great number of trouts or salmon-like fish found in the rivers.
The city is not only attractive by its excellent fishing possibilities
but also by its ‘estancias' environment, places of historical interest,
like the Salesian Mission ‘Nuestra Señora de la Calendaria' and
the Hemispheric Net of Beach Birds.
Misión Salesiana "Nuestra Sra. de la Candelaria": It was
founded in 1893 by Monsignor Fagnano to convert the selk'nam (onas)
natives, when the natives were wiped out, it turned into a primary
school and in 1983 it was declared Historical National Monument. The
chapel, the house of the mission, the house of Maria Auxiliadora's
sisters and Monsignor Fagnano Regional Museum make up an interesting
circuit that takes us to the past.
Coastal Birds Hemispheric Beach: The coast of Tierra del Fuego
(from San Sebastián Bay to Cabo San Pablo) makes up an area of
international importance for the survival of different species of
migratory coastal birds, some of which spend there the non-reproductive
stage to migrate in Fall to the North Hemisphere where nesting takes
Tierra del Fuego is a province that gives us big access to spend
unforgettable holidays. Tierra del Fuego province, due to its
characteristics, allows us many other variants, such as adventure
tourism, sprots fishing, boat trips, modern catamarans or comfortable
sailing ships that sail the Beagle Channel… The circuits in the city
allow us feel the history and culture of a town and its pioneers by
visiting the End of the World Museum or Maritime Museum in Ushuaia.
In high season (Oct/Apr) you can go on different non- traditional
excursions, such as walks, hiking, trekking, naturalist excursions,
cycling, horseback riding, sailing ship trips, etc…
Argentina: Entry 1
31 December 2002: El Calafate, Argentina
Ushuaia, the world's most southerly town. Well, if you ignore Puerto
Williams, over the Beagle Channel on Chillean Isla Navarinos, it is
(and the Argentines do). Though actually it isn't as far South as
plenty of places in Europe are North (someone look it up for me).
Basically it's a town of about 40,000 people with some big mountains
behind and the Beagle Channel in front. The rest of the Gran Isla Del
Tierra Del Fuego is flat, just like the Falklands (those of you my age
or older will remember exactly what the terrain of the Falklands is
like), but the area around Ushuaia is more mountainous. The highest
point, Monte Veronica, is about 1300m, with most of the other peaks
around the 1000m mark or a bit more. To the West in the Chillean part
there are some much bigger peaks with big glaciers and snowfields, but
it is hard to see them from the Argentine side or the border and harder
to visit them.
I arrived with Karina from Belgium and we stayed in a hostel that
turned out to be Ushuaia's Israeli hangout. (For some reason, Israelis
tend to congrugate much more than other nationalities.) This made
Christmas quite interesting! The non-israelies amongst us cooked
ourselves a nice meal on Christmas Eve, accompanied by a few bottles of
cheap but pleasant Argentine wine, and at midnight the lady who ran the
place produced some drinks and nibbles. But before we could tuck in she
wanted to read an appropriate bible extract - and as the only native
English speaker I was volunteered to read the English translation! For
some reason the Gideons like the King James Version, so I don't think
the assorted French, Belgian, Israelis and others understood much of
it. Here we all are:
We did a couple of day walks from Ushuaia, one up to the glacier behind
the town in what is in winter the ski resort. We got to walk up some
snow and saw a nice view and had tea and cakes in a swiss-style tea
chalet afterwards. (Argentina is if anything even more like a European
country than Chile, yet since their recent currency devaluation the
prices are bargains. Only films and stamps are more expensive than in
Chile.) Then we went for a walk around the Parque National Tierra Del
Fuego, which has some lovely coastal and woodland walks (though it was
raining which didn't help). I have taken lots of pictures of the
flowers, and one of the sign at the end of the road - it is the end of
the Panamerican Highway and says "Alaska 17,384km".
At about that point we discovered that getting out of Ushuaia would be
more difficult than getting in had been. It looked like all of the
buses and planes were fully booked for weeks! But a friendly travel
agent got us seats on a plane only a couple of days later, and we
decided to spend them on a short trek near the coast. The idea was to
set off Eastwards from Ushuaia and walk along the coast path to a
river, and to follow the river inland and over a pass to meet the main
road, from where we could hitch-hike the short distance back to the
The first bit along the coast went very well; there were nice views of
the Beagle Channel and interesting vegetation. There is lots of
Firebush, a shrub with bright red flowers. (I have bought a field guide
to Patagonia including plants, birds, trees and so on, so for once I
have a clue what I am looking at!) Then we reached the river and
started inland, but we had a few problems. Most seriously we didn't
have a map. I had had a good look at one stuck on the wall in Ushuaia's
Club Andino, but it is impossible to buy them as, apparently, the
government can't afford to buy the ink to print them with. (Do you
believe that?) Anyway we lost the path and ended up following a
side-stream rather than the main river and spent the night camped in a
clearing in the wrong place.
But at least thanks to stelite navigation we knew what we'd done wrong
and the following morning we set off in the right direction and
eventually even found the path again. But the depressingly truthful
satelites were telling us that we were doing less than a kilometer per
hour and it didn't increase on the path as there were lots of really
muddy patches where it had been churned up by cows. So at three in the
afternoon, less than four kilometers from the coast, we turned back.
But it had been an enjoyable trip despite not achieving our goal. Here
is a view looking back towards Ushuaia along the Beagle Channel coast:
So this afternoon we flew from Ushuaia Malvinas Argentinas Internationl
Airport to El Calafate, a rather smaller town back on the mainland and
not far from Los Glaciares national park. Keep tuned for further
By Erhard Kraus
The plane approaches Tierra del Fuego. Earlier while still over the
open Atlantic, I had a look out of the window and marveled at the
wind-whipped surface, frightening the observer even from 30,000 ft up.
Now, as we cross the north-east coast, I see the wide tidal zone and a
silvery river that winds out of the brown interior towards the coast.
The town of Rio Grande (at the bottom left corner in the photo on the
left) looks small and insignificant in this large landscape and my
attention is drawn to the straight lines of the roads and the
occasional patch of dark green forest. That's where I will be traveling.
Then clouds obscure the view. Not long later, the plane banks to the
east and a tear in the clouds reveals the Beagle Channel below and Isla
Navarino across. The island looks wild and wet, and a bit further east,
there is even snow. The plane banks again and doubles back, on approach
to the airport of Ushuaia. It is hard to stay clear of politics: the
photo of Ushuaia's runway comes from a promotional website. In its
label is the reference to the Malvinas or Falklands, islands a few
hundred kilometres to the east. When I check later the history, I find
that there have been conflicts over these islands since 1832.
The wind shakes the plane as we streak down the runway, and it's
obvious that it has rained just minutes ago. Once in the terminal, I
join the throng of tourists that hover in the baggage area and try to
figure out my next steps: find a place to sleep that won't cost an arm
and a leg and hire a cab that is able to take me and my huge bicycle
box to the town. This is Argentina, and I speak no Spanish, yet. The
first panic sets in when my panniers show up on the conveyor belt but
the bike is nowhere to be seen. I check with the office of Aerolinas
Argentina and find it had been sent ahead yesterday. Now, it is hidden
behind a pile of other luggage. Relieved, I turn to the next challenge:
finding a place where to sleep. The lady at the tourist information
booth is pretty helpful and books me into a dentist's "hospedaje": in
this case, the basement of the large and new house was converted into a
dormitory to make some cash. The address is "Provincia Grande 625" and
the phone number is (0901) 22730, in case you are looking for a
place. The price for one night was in my instance $25.-. This is
US$ or Argentinean Peso, as both currencies are truly interchangeable
in Tierra del Fuego.
PS: A word of caution: in both Chile and Argentina, people
will accept only bills that look immaculate and will refuse bills that
have rips or have been written on. I could not use a US$100 bill
that had been stamped on somewhere in the US, but managed to unload a
brand-new US$50 bill that had a new format, which I and the
receiver had never seen before and could have been a creative fake.
It's a different game there, and you got to play by their rules.
PPS (December 2001): peso and dollars are much different now, I
suppose. Do your homework and find out how to carry what travel money...
The cab driver struggles with the large bike box and he just can't fit
it into the car. We finally decide that the bike, if taken from the
box, will fit on the backseat and finally we do succeed. It's raining
hard and the taxi works its way up the sloped part of town where the
newer houses are. Most streets are unpaved, curbs separate pot holes
from weeds and many houses are built in the traditional style of an
A-frame-like cottage. Dogs run free and don't seem to be owned.When I
later pass on my bicycle, they bark wildly and I am worried they might
take a bite out of me. They must be fed by someone because there is
hardly any garbage lying around that they could scavenge: household
refuse is placed out of reach in a wire basket atop a 5 ft pole in
front of each house. I had later asked whether one should be afraid of
the dogs and the answer was a laugh: you just throw a rock at them and
they'll run. I had a chance to try it and it works. For the rest of the
trip, whenever I saw a dog down the road, I stopped the bike and picked
up a rock or two, just in case....
Ushuaia started out as a prison colony and has always been
subsidized by the government in Buenos Aires: Ushuaia is strategically
important to secure Argentina's claim to the south. Only recently has
it grown due to the large number of visiting tourists. At the fairly
new airport, several flights arrive each day, and a steady stream of
cruise ships is responsible for the majority of curious folks that look
for anything interesting along the immature main street. Ushuaia bills
itself as the southernmost city on the globe, a title that has been
successfully wrested from Punta Arenas and that is now being contested
by Puerto Williams, a village about 50km to the east across the Beagle
Channel on Chilean territory. Chile is eager to promote flights to
Puerto Williams just as Argentina is eager to block access to that
place. You will find it's difficult to commute between the two places,
but you might get the cheapest flight into the south by going
(from Chile, of course) to Puerto Williams instead of Ushuaia.
Ushuaia(oosweye´ä) city (1980 pop. 11,029),
Tierra del Fuego Territory, S Argentina, a port on the Beagle Canal, on
Ushuaia Bay. Settled in the 1870s by English missionaries, it was
taken over by Argentine naval forces in 1884. Lumber, livestock,
and fishing are important to the local economy.
The folks at the hospedaje are friendly. For dinner, I get a lift down
to a restaurant and have a lengthy chat with the owner there, with my
host acting as a translator. I hear about a Canadian from Montreal who
passed through on a bicycle, many years back. There is even a photo to
prove it. And in the evening, I call Pegg' in Canada to let her know
that I have arrived safely. The phone call is done from a phone centre,
one of the many that you find in the south. It is a place where you
tell them the number you want to call, they'll dial it for you and you
talk in a private booth. Then you pay and the fee is substantial. The
calls to Canada typically cost me around $20 for about 10 minutes. If
you want to cut costs, ask whether there is a discount after some hour
(e.g. 10 p.m.). Many people are employed in this business, and I have
talked to several young folks that were taking training for this job.
But it's a job that is easily automated and thus will disappear.
These people will be looking for something else in a few years...
At the phone centre, I meet a Chilena from Punta Arenas. She calls home
to her mom and later we chat over a cup of coffee. There is little work
back home and she has a worker's permit that allows her to stay here,
working in a small hotel. She tells me about the uncertainty of getting
the annual renewal of her permit and that she'd rather work somewhere
else if she knew of a place where she could go. But with little
education, what chance will she have to apply for immigration
elsewhere. I feel for her plight and am sorry I cannot help. We part
and go our own ways. But as I trot "home" in the pouring rain, I
realize I am a cheapskate for not sending her home in a cab: she's been
coughing and is coming down with a cold. Here I am, 53 years old and
have not learned the basics yet....
In the hospedaje there is a visitor from Germany. Anya had trekked
across South America a few years ago, made friends and is back for two
weeks of visiting. She is concerned about my inexperience with the
country and gives advice: what food to buy and where to buy it, whether
the water along the way will be drinkable ("only drink where there are
forests"), telling me how to say things in Spanish and so on. Too bad
that her time is already spoken for: it would be great to travel with
For breakfast, I cycle down to the main street to one of the many
cafés. After having locked the bike to a lamp post, I enter the
place and look around. Several locals sip their morning coffee and they
are amused at something. I am bold enough to ask and the owner explains
that I am the source of mirth: no one here locks their bikes. I am
still learning, and this lesson will hold true for all of Patagonia:
property is safe.
About 10 km west of Ushuaia is the National Park, starting on the
Beagle Canal and running north along the border with Chile into the
interior of Tierra del Fuego. Anya recommends a visit there, as this is
a place encompasses the character of the extreme south: sea, mountains,
lakes, forests and moors.
I decide to make this my trial run and pedal there on my bike,
with rain pouring down as usual. The paved road goes through the newer
sections of the rapidly expanding town, and, where the municipal
garbage dump is, it changes into a dirt road. Crested Caracas,
carrion-eating eagles, circle overhead and screech. When I try to get
up closer, a pack of dogs comes into sight and I avoid a confrontation
by heading back towards the park. The road is not bad once you are
inside the park, but the park is a popular tourist spot and thus cars
and buses pass frequently. Once at the gate, I pay my five pesos and
the park attendant hands me a sketchy map with a few trail
options. I decide to head down to the first parking lot at the water's
edge (the place is marked on the map above with a star and a camping
There, at the parking lot, tourists spill from a bus, crowd the
grassy knoll to snap pictures and then seem ready to move on.A handful
of them ventures down to the water, and some even across the little
creek where lenga trees reach with their bizarre branches towards the
bay and strange orange sponge fungi litter the ground.
I chain the bike to a fence and start walking west, along the
Beagle Canal for about 10 km. Sea weed is showing in the water near the
shore, and shells litter the pebbly beaches, birds such as oyster
catchers run over the rocks and geese and ducks paddle across the
coves. The water is quiet near the shore, but further out I see the
pattern of waves and know the wind is running free in the channel.When
the trail leads away from the shore, there is a chance to take a closer
look at the forest. Trees are stunted and trunks are short, branching
wildly, not far above the ground.The forest lacks the grandeur and
order of the northern forests of home, and I start to understand why
people such as Darwin were so negative about the environment (and its
human fauna) here. Later, I studied how the native Yamanas built their
canoes: much cruder than their north-American counterparts. The
materials locally available are not as suitable for boat building:
there is no equivalent to birch bark and the brittle lenga bark must
do; there are no pines with their magical resin and thus clay, moss,
grass and an algae need to be employed to seal the seams; and the
tricky water and wind conditions demand a deep boat. For details of
these canoes, click here.
The trees are "Lenga" (Southern Beech), Ñire and I also
recognize Calafate. I try Calafate berries, and they are quite edible,
similar to blue berries. Later I realize that Calafate berries are a
lot sweeter in the country further north where they get more sun. As I
make my way up a slope, a strange "KRRRK!", followed by plaintive
cries, makes me look up in surprise and there is a pair of Caracaras 2
m above me in the trees. I think back to Bruce Chatwin's "In
Patagonia": it describes an event where a boat capsized and the men
were floating in the water. Soon they were attacked by birds like these
and eventually let themselves drown to escape the vicious bird attacks.
I shake off these horrible thoughts and move on. Many trees suffer from
a cancer and weird burrs develop on the branches. There is a picture of
one, to the left. Later, I cross an area flooded by beavers and
understand the frustration of hikers who have to abandon the original
trail because of the newly created ponds. Those beavers were brought in
from Canada some decades ago and I am not sure I should be proud of the
connection with my home country. Back in Canada, I welcome beavers on
the trail since they ensure that even trickles of water are canoeable.
Here, they are a pest.
I walk back along the road towards where I left the bicycle. Buses and
cars slow down as they pass me on the wet gravel, and I regret not
having taken the same trail back along the shore, away from cars and
gravel. Then, I cycle back towards Ushuaia, in the rain, but with the
wind from behind. It's a lot easier than going the other way.
I am glad I made the excursion to the park: I understand a bit
more about this place, and my gear seems OK for the ride ahead.
End of the Road
Day 13, Thursday, January 2, 1997
Ushuaia, Argentina, rainy, sunny, and no wind
Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, westerly wind
It was pouring in the morning. With this kind of rain, there was
no point going to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. Having seen the
wonders of Torres del Paine and the Moreno Glacier, it's probably not a
great loss to miss this park. Word we heard before was that it's just a
park with trees. Ed planned to take a taxi into town to get his laundry
done. I thought I might tag along if the rain's not too bad. By the
time we finished breakfast, the downpour had become a drizzle.
We walked the fifteen minutes into town. Ed went to a laundromat.
I went to the Aerolíneas Argentinas office to confirm our
flight tomorrow to Buenos Aires. While we had had a tough time finding
open shops and restaurants and had seen very few people on the streets
yesterday, all the shops were open now and the streets were full of
people. "Where did all these people hide yesterday?!" I wondered. The
Aerolíneas Argentinas office was very crowded. I had to wait
for forty-five minutes to get to a teller. It took forty-five seconds
to reconfirmed our flight. "They are all confirmed," I was told. I
picked up some postcards before I went to the laundromat to meet up
Ushuaia is in fact much larger than I had imagined. I had thought
that being the southernmost town in the world, it must be a small
village that most of the world had forgotten about. Aside from the town
center that's easily navigable on foot, a lot of houses spread out
around the center into the surrounding areas. The reality is that a lot
of tourists pass through here. Sixty percent of all cruises to
Antarctica depart from Ushuaia. The town is aware of the tourist income
and promotes itself as fin del mundo, the end of the world. Its
centrally located tourist office is staffed with English speaking young
ladies who readily pull out information sheets and brochures on pretty
much anything a tourist might want to know about the city.
Oddly, Ushuaia is the only place on this entire journey that I
had a very slight Venice feeling. The Venice feeling is a feeling that
a place is completely overrun by tourists, that everyone there is
either a tourist or someone serving a tourist, that everything is a
show staged for the tourists, and that nothing is genuinely local and
unaffected by the tourist dollars. (To be fair, I suppose Venice could
be very nice in the winter when most tourists stay home.) Only a little
worse than the Venice feeling is the Disneyland feeling, where everyone
there is indeed a tourist or serving a tourist, and everything is
indeed a show. In all the other places on this trip, I did not sense a
concerted effort to promote those places to the tourists, despite the
fact that some places like El Calafate see a lot of travelers passing
Ed and I walked around town, visited the tourist office again to
get some info on buses to Tierra del Fuego National Park. Only a small
section of the park was open to visitors and that portion could be
easily covered on foot. We decided that rather than take a tour, we'd
take a bus that simply drops us off at a campsite in the park. We
walked past a restaurant, and I saw the Italian guy who was on our
Torres del Paine tour sitting there sipping coffee. We waved and
nodded. We talked around a bit more. We had lunch in the same
restaurant later on, since there was still some time left before our
3:30 p.m. bus. After lunch, Ed went off to pick up his laundry and to
drop it off at the hotel. I sat in the restaurant, watched people
passing by on the streets, and wrote postcards telling some of my
friends that I was at the end of the world - Fin del Mundo. I felt
quite content and peaceful. I wrote the other two friends I had invited
to join me on this trip that I really wished they were here. At the
very early stage of planning, I had told them this trip would be three
times as long, cost three times as much, and be three times as fun as
the Yucatán trip. I believe I was right on every one of these
three predictions. I thought that they had missed a lot of fun. Aside
from the two summers that I had spent abroad, this trip was turning out
to be by far the best vacation trip I had ever had.
We caught the 3:30 bus to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.
Since the area open to visitors was very limited, there wasn't a whole
lot to cover. We hiked around for a few hours on two fairly easy
trails. There wasn't any breathtaking scenery here, especially since we
had by now visited more impressive Iguazú, Moreno, and Torres
del Paine. The park is nevertheless very beautiful. We walked to the
end of La Ruta Nacional No. 3. A small tour bus of people were leaving
just as we arrived. It confirmed my belief that it was a shrewd
decision not to take a tour for this park. This is literally the end of
the road. South of here, there are no more roads. This is the starting
point or finishing point, depending on how you want to look at it, of
the Pan American Highway - 17,848 kilometers from Alaska. I got the
number from a plaque there, but I am not too sure from what point in
Alaska, though. Alaska's awfully big, you know.
The highway ends near the water. Into the distant sea beyond the
winding inlet is the Beagle Channel. We sat for a while. It was sunny
by now and not particularly cold. Surprisingly, it's not terribly
windy. It's a beautiful thing that we could feel alone in these parks
to enjoy nature in relative solitude. Aside from the occasional hikers
passing by, there are no hoards of tourists, cars, and RV's that
completely overrun Yosemite or Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. There
was no Venice feeling.
By the time we got back to Ushuaia around nine, the most amazing
thing had happened. There was no wind! The harbor was so calm the water
mirrored the snow-peaked mountains, the buildings, the ships, ... The
weather here was sure unpredictable like in the mountains. It was
pouring in the morning but sunny in the afternoon. The unceasing
westerly wind could on a whim turn calm.
We had dinner at Pizzería El Turco, a simple restaurant
with simple services, but a long wine list. There were a couple of
people, all wearing T-shirts of some expedition, talking excitedly in
English two tables away from us. It's Ed's turn to be silent today and
for the rest of the trip. He had developed a sore throat in the last
two days, and avoided speaking as much as possible. It would get
progressively worse in the coming days, all the way until the end of
the trip. First I couldn't talk because of the bad cough after
Iguazú. Now Ed couldn't talk because of the sore throat. Since
Christmas, with the exception of the two or three days in Punta Arenas
and Ushuaia, Ed and I had no conversation. Decision making usually
involved one person laying out the options and the other person
agreeing or disagreeing by nodding or shaking his head. At one point
when I couldn't come up with a title for this article, Ed suggested
"Speechless in Ushuaia." Then again, there are already too many
allusions to movie titles in this travelogue.
Riding a train through the frozen Tierra Del Fuego
By BILL CORMIER
USHUAIA, Argentina -- The last licks of a winter gale die away with the
morning as storm clouds speed across the snowy peaks of Tierra del
Fuego National Park. A solitary train whistle sounds.
The long screech of the old-fashioned locomotive pierces the
frosty air, its smokestack belching puffs of white steam.
"All aboaard!" the stationmaster shouts as two dozen passengers
scramble aboard replicas of antique English passenger wagons. For the
next two hours they will be riding the "Train to the End of the World."
By tourist train, and later the same day by catamaran over the
ice-blue waters of the Beagle Channel, they will explore the
southernmost tip of South America.
Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire, is a patchwork of mountainous
islands and sea channels carved out by glaciers ages ago. Much of this
land is uninhabited, its name conjuring up visions of howling winds and
Yamana Indians, a canoe people, lived here for thousand of years,
nomadic hunters who survived on seal meat and edible plants. European
exploration began with Magellan in 1520, followed by whalers and
wayfarers, sailors and sealers, and the occasional missionary.
Today, tens of thousands of people visit Tierra Del Fuego each
year, mainly in the warmer summer months of December-February. Smaller
numbers come in late July and August, when it's winter in the Southern
It's just as spectacular then.
The English-style locomotive puffs its way out of a wooden
station for a roundtrip ride over 4.5 miles of narrow track.
Begun in 1994, the train runs several trips daily, fewer in
wintertime, from a station a few miles west of Ushuaia, population
The train retraces parts of the route of a convict railway once
built and run by prisoners confined to Ushuaia, the southernmost city
on Earth, some 1,495 miles south of Buenos Aires.
A former penitentiary as infamous to Argentines as Alcatraz, El
Presidio operated from the early 1900s until 1947, when it was closed
for humanitarian reasons.
Now it is a museum on the grounds of a naval base.
Black-and-white photos of the era show prisoners in striped
uniforms sawing in the forest, pushing logs into freight cars or seated
unsmiling on th train's narrow benches.
Chopping firewood from these beech forests is still a year-round
task for many in Tierra del Fuego, where long winter months yield only
6 to 8 hours of daily sunlight and the temperature hovers around
The tiny train chugs past an ice-encrusted stream, frozen peat
bogs and jagged mountaintops rendered postcard perfect by a recent
snowfall. Icicles drip from the rocks.
"To your right you will see hundreds of blackened, scorched tree
stumps," says the tour conductor, Oscar Scheffelaar-Klotz. "This was
once a forest where the convicts cut down trees. Sparks from the old
freight train started fires here."
The train halts beside a replica of an Indian settlement, then
rolls past an old sawmill and fields of wild berry bushes now dormant
in the snow as the smokestack's plume rises in the pale winter light.
Further along, the wagons wend through the Cemetery of the Trees,
hundreds upon hundreds of acres of trees removed by convicts.
"As you can see, the prisoners cut down many, many trees. And
each year they needed to build the train line farther out as they cut
farther and farther away from the city," the guide says.
Soon the train enters the Tierra del Fuego National Park, pocked
with peat bogs and hardscrabble hills. Across the Beagle Channel, the
Chilean mountains of the Darwin Cordillera glow a pale blue-hite. Chile
and Argentina share the main island of Tierra del Fuego.
Beech forests rise up the mountains and whisper in the wind.
Clumps of green lichen -- called "devil's beard" -- swing from bushes.
With the prisoners long gone, beavers now do the work of felling trees,
leaving trunks with chiseled toothmarks.
Snowy footprints, perhaps a fox, lead up a streambank. A
cormorant, a seabird whose wingspan can reach six feet, flies in search
of an inviting lake as the train ride comes to an end.
Here in Tierra del Fuego, water is as much a formidable presence
as land. Voyaging across both can be fitted into one day, with
connections between train and catamaran bookable in advance -- such as
the 100-foot catamaran Ezequiel MB that sails at mid-afternoon.
Andean flute music is piped into the Ezequiel's enclosed
double-deck salon. Black-coated waiters serve white wine while families
sip hot Mate tea -- an Argentine tradition.
Warmly dressed tourists step out of heated salons onto the
open-air top deck and its panoramic view, as the ship glides from
Ushuaia Bay down the Beagle Channel.
One mountain after another slides past: majestic Monte Olivia and
a peak with serrated teeth called the Cinco Hermanos, or Five Brothers.
"Oh look! Seals!" a 6-year-old girl squeals as the Ezequiel pulls
alongside an islet where dozens of fur seals rollick. The animals slide
off black boulders into the waves as tourists "ooh" and "aah."
Another island looms up, topped with grunting sea lions, among
them a 300-pound male defending his harem. Tourists crowd the side of
the boat to gawk.
"Please be quiet," the tour guide whispers through the boat's
microphones as the Ezequiel idles within yards.
Then the catamaran pulls away, a golden winter sunset glinting
off the backs of the sea lions. Heading for home, the ship passes
islands covered with squawking black cormorants. Some nosedive into the
waves for fish.
The day ends as it began: Gray clouds gather atop distant
mountains. The wind picks up. The mercury drops.
As waves rise higher and rap against the catamaran's pontoons,
the Ezequiel speeds for Ushuaia Bay.
The city lights twinkle warmly, welcoming the tourist back after
a winter's day at the end of the world.
(First featured: August 27, 1998)
Anglican Missionary Endeavour in Tierra del Fuego (1832-1916)
In the mid-19th century, British Anglican groups attempted to establish
Christian mission stations among the Yaghan, a nomadic canoe-people
living in the southernmost channels of the Tierra del Fuego
archipelago. Despite fatal reverses in 1850 and 1859, success was
achieved at Ushuaia in 1869. However, encroaching white settlement from
the north brought disease and culture shock, necessitating a move
further south in 1888; but the condition of the natives grew steadily
worse. Despite two further relocations, the race was effectively
extinguished, and with it the mission's reason for existence. The last
station closed in 1916.
Increased British influence around the globe after the Napoleonic Wars
(1815 onward) was accompanied by growing social concern for the welfare
and Christian "salvation" of all mankind, regardless of racial group or
prevailing religious faith. The Victorian era was a veritable "golden
age" of missionary endeavour, at times in the vanguard of formal
colonisation, at others quite independent of it. For instance, public
support for abolition of the Negro slave-trade led British Christian
missionaries to both west and east Africa (the Scottish doctor-explorer
David Livingstone being one well-publicised example).
The First Experiment
The earliest recorded British attempt to convert the indigenous peoples
of Tierra del Fuego was organised by Captain Robert Fitzroy of the
In the course of the hydrographic survey of the Beagle Channel in 1830,
he had induced four young Yaghans ("named" York Minster, Boat Memory,
Jemmy Button, and Fuegia Basket) to accompany him to England. Fitzroy
was a man of strong religious convictions. At his personal initiative
and expense, the natives were placed under the care of Rev. William
Wilson (a member of the Church Missionary Society) taught the English
language, dressed according to the British custom and trained in
Fitzroy returned to these southern waters in 1833, accompanied by York,
Jemmy and Fuegia (Boat had died early on). On January 27th, these three
were installed in a simple hut at Wulaia (on Navarino Island), with the
catechist Richard Matthews, in the expectation that they would educate
the local groups in enlightened ways. This well-meaning attempt lasted
a mere 10 days: Matthews was severely harassed and had to be withdrawn.
Early Missionary Societies
Retired Navy Captain Allen Francis Gardiner was a moving force behind
the growth of missionary society work. During 1844/45 (with the support
of the Brighton Missionary Association for Patagonia) he and Robert
Hunt attempted to establish a mission among the Tehuelche and Yaghan
peoples at San Gregorio, on the north shore of the Strait of Magellan
(where sovereignty had recently been asserted by the Chilean
government). Their letters to home provide a glimpse of the dangers and
practical difficulties of their situation. This mission was abandoned.
In March 1848, Gardiner made an unsuccessful attempt at settling on
Picton Island (at the eastern approach to the Beagle Channel). Then, in
December 1850, he and six companions returned to Picton and established
camp; they were driven out and took refuge at Puerto Español, a
secluded inlet on the north shore of the Channel. Sadly, all died of
starvation before the expected relief vessel arrived.
Local Base of Operations
Once word of the tragedy reached Britain, there was a rush of sympathy
for this type of undertaking. With the increased financial support, the
Patagonian Missionary Society (PMS) purchased a vessel, renamed the "Allen Gardiner", which was dispatched in 1855 to Keppel Island, in the
Falklands [Malvinas]. The new strategy, in the interests of safety, was
to persuade small groups of natives to visit Keppel for short periods
of time. The first attempts failed; but by 1858 the way seemed clear to
establish another "beach-head", once again at Wulaia, on the west coast
of Navarino Island. However, tragedy struck in October 1859, when five
members of the group were killed, only the ship's cook being spared.
The missionary work at Keppel did not cease, only paused. After
exploring the pampas lying to the north of the Magellan Strait in
1858-59, Theophilus Schmid tried fruitlessly to negotiate a mission
site on Elizabeth Island (near Punta Arenas) to serve as base of
operations for work among the Tehuelche tribes of the mainland.
Together with Hunziker, he built a hut at Weddell's Bluff, near the
mouth of the Santa Cruz River (on the Atlantic seaboard); however,
relations with the local natives were difficult and unproductive, and
the project failed. [see footnote]
The Ushuaia Mission
Despite these repeated setbacks, the PMS superintendent, Rev. Waite
Hockin Stirling, was determined that the Society's work should proceed,
and in 1863 he went to meet the Yaghans in person; in 1865 the society
was renamed the South American Missionary Society (SAMS). The
acculturation of natives by visits to Keppel Island continued. In 1867,
a small settlement was established at Laiwaia (or Leuaia, on Navarino
Island, near the Murray Channel), occupied by four trained Yaghans.This
advance-post was a success.
By 1869, Stirling was ready to found a fresh missionary station. A
house was erected at Peninsula MacClinton, near present-day Ushuaia,
and he moved in alone, accompanied only by a few trusted Yaghans.
Little by little, the new community prospered, and by the end of six
months a small group of natives were practising the rudiments of
vegetable and livestock farming, learning to erect buildings and being
instructed in the Christian way of life. Stirling's faith and courage
were rewarded: the settlement had taken root.
Rev. Thomas Bridges
In 1871 a new superintendent arrived in Ushuaia: Rev. Thomas Bridges
and his young family. Bridges had come to Keppel as a child in 1856
with his adoptive father Rev. George Despard, and had thoroughly
assimilated the native culture and language. His work at Ushuaia was
correspondingly enlightened, and successful. In 1873 Bridges was joined
by John Lawrence, another dedicated missionary, who likewise raised a
Years of strenuous endeavour followed, but the outside world was
drawing ever closer. The Argentine government had begun to take an
interest in the administration and development of this remote area, and
a military garrison was established nearby. Increased contact with
visiting ships repeatedly brought infectious diseases, which were
frequently fatal to the indigenous people. The use of alcohol as an
item of trade was another blow, as it led to personal dissipation,
social disintegration and even murder.
Believing that his work could not continue in these changed conditions,
Bridges resigned from SAMS in 1887 and moved further east, to
Harberton, an isolated spot where he and his family developed a ranch.
About 60 Yaghans were employed as farm workers, thus continuing in lay
fashion the civilising work begun at Ushuaia.
The Bayly Mission
Meanwhile, in 1888, Aspinall had negotiated with the Chilean government
the right to establish a new mission station in the Wollaston Islands,
a little north of Cape Horn. Before year's end, Leonard and Nellie
Burleigh, with their young child, were transferred from Keppel and
settled on Bayly Island. The natives of this area lived in poor
conditions, and the adverse weather made the couple's task arduous in
the extreme. Helpers were sent from Ushuaia, and the mission´s
orphanage at Ushuaia was transferred there also. Not until 1892,
however, was it possible to transfer the mission to a more sheltered
site, at Tekenika Bay, on Hoste Island.
The Tekenika Mission
This third mission had an inauspicious start. Almost 200 natives had
congregated around the site, but it was too late in the season to plant
food beds and the animals had not arrived. With supplies arriving
occasionally by boat, and the natives away foraging, all construction
work fell upon the two male missionaries. Almost everyone succumbed to
illness, and conditions were very stressful. Then in late 1893,
Burleigh was drowned and the project was in crisis, relying on a series
of temporary missionaries until Peter Pringle and his wife arrived to
maintain continuity of the work.
The Rev. John Williams (who had worked briefly at Tekenika in 1895) and
his family returned to Tekenika in 1902 after a six-year term as
chaplain of the new Anglican church in Punta Arenas. In the intervening
years, a dedicated team of missionaries had expanded the mission
buildings, providing all the help they could muster. But the Yaghans
were a dying race, and the mission was too remote. The end was
inevitable, and in 1907 the missionaries transferred their base of
operations for the last time.
The Río Douglas Mission
The new mission, at Río Douglas, was located on Navarino Island,
further north than its two predecessors, where communications to
Ushuaia and Punta Arenas were easier. Williams and his wife were
dedicated workers, extending the buildings, and caring for the
remaining natives' bodies and souls. The "flock" was not going to be
abandoned, but the extinction of the race was well under way. The
Keppel mission closed its doors in 1911, and last of all Río
Douglas, in 1916. The Williams's returned to the booming city of Punta
Arenas, where they continued to labour among the "new Patagonians" for
the remainder of their days.
The Salesian Missions
With the advance of regional development, and the tensions provoked by
territorial disputes, it was inevitable that the Anglican presence
(however well-intentioned) should arouse political and religious
uneasiness among the Argentine and Chilean authorities. This would
explain, for example, Schmid's inability to secure the use of Elizabeth
Starting three decades later, missionary work on the continental
mainland and the "big island" of Tierra del Fuego was performed instead
by the Roman Catholic Salesian congregation. Originating in Italy, this
group of priests and nuns worked predominantly with the Ona peoples of
the interior of the "big island", who later came under intolerable
pressure from the sheep ranchers. They are still prominent to this day
in education and community work among the general population.
Historians have drawn contrasting conclusions from this episode in the
region's history, which was, in essence, a classic "frontier" phenomenon. From a pragmatic point of view, the Anglican missions were
a failure: the native race could not be adequately shielded from the
encroaching white settlers, and was extinguished within a few
generations; its cultural heritage exists nowadays only in books and
Taking the religious perspective, however, leads to a more
positive interpretation: the culture shock was attenuated by the
presence of sympathetic mediators; adjustment to the new reality
allowed a few of the natives to integrate economically and genetically
with the dominant group; and an example of selfless humanitarian
behaviour (¨"Christian charity") was held up to the public gaze,
both locally and in far-away Britain. There seems to be conundrum -- is
there ever such a thing as a "lost cause"? http://www.patbrit.com/eng/SAMS/SAMS.html
Back to Virtual Voyage of Chile
For your FREE monthly newsletter,
The Patagonian Newsletter Monthly ,
with information (Email only) on Patagonia, Tierra Del Fuego,
Cape Horn and South Georgia, send
and write "subscribe"
A subscribers Comment: Wonderful newsletter! Thanks so much.